East Durham neighborhood poised to receive new trees

Sep. 07, 2013 @ 01:11 PM

Cooling temperatures and shorter days are upon us.  After a cool and wet summer, the autumn leaf color will likely be unimpressive, but you may see spots of color near the ground if you live in Old East Durham. These colorful shapes will not be leaves, but each one will represent a new tree for the neighborhood. 

 I’m referring to colorful survey flags that are soon to appear along both north and south Diver Street.  These flags will represent the planting locations for over 140 new trees, spaced to fill in gaps left by missing street trees, lost but not replaced over the years in this vital community corridor.

The old trees were almost exclusively willow oaks, and the new trees will be made up of at least four species.  Where there are overhead powerlines, the trees selected will have to be compatible.   Where there are no overhead powerlines, there is still a relatively narrow “planting strip”, so trees selected will be relatively compact.  All will be selected for tolerance to variable soil conditions and drought, but will have some positive ornamental attributes. 

These new neighborhood residents will be brought to the community through the generosity of the United Parcel Service (UPS) and the North Carolina Urban Forest Council (NCUFC). Both organizations have provided a combined total of over $8,500 in grants to help fund this project through the non-profit Keep Durham Beautiful. 

Big things are already happening on the Driver Street corridor, which began a serious revitalization when the Holton Career Center was rehabilitated and opened for business on the 400 north block back in 2011.   This was followed this year by the rehabilitation of what is now the Maureen Joy school, a new charter school on the 100 south block which celebrated its ribbon cutting this past Wednesday. 

Sadly, construction projects take a toll on big, mature trees, and these projects were no exception. In total, the neighborhood lost over 20 of its mature willow oaks between Liberty and Angier in the past five years.   

The most visible project in the neighborhood is going to be happening down on the Angier corridor, which will update utilities, street surfaces, sidewalks, and intersections along a five block section of both Angier and Driver streets. The project calls for the planting of numerous street trees, which had to share space in this comprehensive upgrade with utilities, parking spaces and intersections.

With new trees going into a new revitalized business district, and old trees coming down in the surrounding residential blocks, the timing seemed perfect for a project to bring some new trees in before all of the old ones came out.  Happily, the city’s Urban Forestry Division has a firm advocate and partner in Keep Durham Beautiful.  Collaborating, the two organizations successfully brought in the Keep America Beautiful/UPS grant, followed closely by the NCUFC Legacy Tree Grant. 

Lining up funds to purchase trees is only one part of a very complex project.  Luckily, the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Services (NIS) department has stepped forward to assist in getting the community organized around the upcoming planting events.  Also participating will be Uplift East Durham, the Old East Durham Neighborhood Association, with support from East Durham Children’s Initiative and other community partners.

The flagging of the planting sites will mark the first step, but soon enough there will be plenty of opportunity for the public to come in and get a little dirty. Between city-wide and neighborhood volunteers, city staff, and UPS employees, this winter will see some dramatic changes happening in a sometimes unappreciated but vital and significant area of Durham. 

Alex Johnson is urban forestry manager for the City of Durham.